BEGINNING THE JOURNAL OF BEATRICE SHARPER UPON HER EMPLOYMENT AT KRAKEN MOOR
I have run out of money.
I have run out of money and so I sit where the forest meets the field, looking out and up at the castle in which I begin my employment when the sun rises. A light snow is falling. The castle, a massive singular structure of grey, surrounded by high walls that hold three towers, is called Kraken Moor,
so I assume it was named by a seafaring captain who made a fortune and lost his mind in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean. I interviewed with the Head of Staff three weeks previous to this night, and have been hired to do whatever it is anyone above my station desires me to do.
As I will be the lowest ranked person in the castle, I imagine I will not be fulfilling any duties anyone else will choose to make their own.
It is minutes from the start of 1865, a year that I hope will bring peace to my home across the waters. I have not heard even a whisper of the happenings in Mississippi since October, though I served dinner to a man this past week who claims to have been in Boston not more than three months previous. He assured me that the War of Northern Aggression (as my father called it) was still raging, yet a conclusion to the hostilities was in sight. General Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign had recently ended with his troops claiming the great southern city in early September, and so it seems inevitable that the South will fall.
I have great love for my family, of course, yet I could not – I would not – stay and help mother oversee our plantation when I did not agree with the cause my father and brothers had left to fight for. I left in a fit of righteous anger, yet if I have learned anything in the past eighteen months it is that the world is not as simple as the seventeen year old me thought. Not all slave owners share a heart with Satan, nor all slaves with God. It was a harrowing journey North for a young white woman traveling alone, and there were men and women of both races, from South and North, that sought to cause me both harm and health. I was glad to put America behind me and find solace in England, though the cousins of those men and women seemed to exist here, too, and in several months I had lost most of my money.
I blather in ink, my eyes straining to see the pages of my new, leather-bound journal. The snow is light and the clouds are sparse, but when the cloud comes between me and the moon, the darkness expands and the cold seems to grow.
The woods behind me are less than a mile thick, and if I were to simply retreat my steps I could find warm shelter for the night in at least one inn, but I am unwilling to pay the price that bed would cost. The Head of Staff at Kraken Moor arranged for me to work the past three weeks at a disgusting inn owned by
Harold Harald Harl, a part-time gardener at the castle. A small room that my mother would have found barely acceptable for one of our slaves was provided in the basement.
I do believe the rats enjoyed my company.
The gardener was a lascivious sort of non-gentleman, but I was safe from his advances because he did not wish to risk the ire of the Head of Staff. Or so I thought. My safety came not from Mr. Harl’s fear of lost income, but rather because there were two wives of two customers of the bar who enjoyed (or tolerated, I like to believe) his company. Two nights previous, they had learned of the existence of each other and Mr. Harl was left without the promise of someone to share his bed with as 1864 became 1865.
This led him to put his hands in a place I objected to most strenuously, which led to him firing me on the spot, which led me to risk spending the night in the cold while watching my future home from a half-mile’s distance. I admit, as my fingers struggle to make legible marks upon this parchment, it was not the wisest decision I have ever made, but then the direction of my life has most often been dictated by a hot, rather than even, temperamen—-
Though I sit a good half mile from the castle the sounds of a great party had made their way to me. The noises had been general and non-specific, but definitively joyous and raucous.
Or they were, until a few minutes ago. At what I reason was upon the strike of midnight (I reason this by the tolling of the midnight bell in the town behind me), a scream the likes I have never heard cut through the night. I say this as a young woman who was raised on a plantation and saw tens, if not hundreds, of slave’s brutally whipped by the overseer of my father’s plantation. This scream was … dangerous. Unholy. Primal.
Almst Almost … my hand shakes as I write this, no longer from the could but from fright … the scream sounded … though I know it to be false, the image that came most passionately to my mind upon hearing that exhortation was the wail of a nightmare ripping apart the boundary between the worlds of life and death. My heart thunders in my ears and I am not to proud to admit I am afraid.
All sounds of the party have ceased.
I believe I shall return to town and take my chances at finding lodging, and then return to Kraken Moor after breakfast.